We are a wine shop that explores the best of both worlds with retail shopping and a walk-in tasting room open Tuesday through Sunday. Our tasting room selections change monthly and always focus on a different "Old World" and "New World" region. The ever-changing menu allows our guests to constantly explore and discover something new. This month we are exploring the old world region of Rioja in Spain and the new world region Walker Bay in South Africa. Order a flight of all four wines or simply stop by, shop, and enjoy a glass. It's up to you!
Spain is one of the three main pillars of the Old-World and also lays claim to one of the top producing regions in the world in terms of overall volume. However, it is also a region that seems to get little attention and appreciation from many American consumers. We often find that our clients in the shop are either lovers of Spanish wine, or they simply never drink them. In the latter case, some have never even tasted a Spanish wine. We can speculate on reasons, but we would rather just put the juice front and center in our flight program and give you an opportunity to taste more Spanish wine!
The fact is that Spain has an incredibly deep history of wine making. From the eastern coastal wine region of Catalonia to the green Rias Baxias in the northwest or the southern Canary Islands, the country is diverse, unique, and rich in wine making history. You will come across still wines, sparkling Cava, fortified sherries and more. When you take the time to explore, you will not only find wonderful quality and value, but you will also discover an incredible range of possibilities to choose from. This month we are bringing you the most well-known of all Spanish regions, Rioja.
With a viticultural history dating back over 2,000 years to Roman times, Rioja is set in northeastern Spain and runs along the Ebro River between the towns of Haro and Alfaro. The region is considered a continental climate, yet it is just a short hour drive south from the coastal town of Bilbao. It is Spain’s second smallest region, but its most prestigious, holding the oldest Designation of Origin (DOC) in Spain dating back to 1925. In 1991, Rioja became the first winemaking region in Spain to be given the DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada) classification, which is the highest classification. This means that any wine holding the DOCa label follows the highest standards from vine to bottle. In fact, the DOCa carries the strictest wine regulations of any wine region in the entire world.
In the 16th century, Rioja began to enjoy an international reputation for quality wine, exporting as far as France, England, Italy, the Netherlands, and even the American colonies. In fact, it was these trade routes which established American oak as the preferred wood for barrels, a tradition which remains today. American oak of course differs from French oak and is known to contribute nuances of dill and coconut. In the mid-1850s, Rioja’s wine export levels jumped dramatically when phylloxera completely devastated most of the French wine production. Rioja was able to maintain its leading exporter status even when phylloxera hit Spain in the 1890s, rapidly copying the French solution of grafting resistant American root stock to native vines. Today, Rioja remains Spain’s top export region.
Rioja is dominated by red wine production. Tempranillo is the principal variety and is often blended with Garnacha (Grenache) in long-lived red wines. These are wines that often show bright red fruits, wet earth, leather, and firm tannins. Oak aging regiments can be extensive depending on the producer. In addition to the first two reds, you will also find Mazuelo (aka Cariñena), Graciano, and a nearly extinct grape called Maturana Tinta. The white wines primarily include Viura (aka Macabeo), Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca, but several others were approved by the DOCa in 2007. Historically, production of wine in the Rioja region has been comprised of blending, however more and more single varietal wines have become popular as winemakers focus on smaller yields and single vineyard sites. Styles vary from traditional barrel-aged reds to modern, fruity whites.
Rioja is divided into three sub-regions. Located on the western edge of the region and at higher elevations than the other two, Rioja Alta is known for more elegance in the wines. The higher elevation equates to a longer growing season, which in turn produces a brighter fruit profile that is light and lifted on the palate. Rioja Alavesa is on the north side of the Ebro and is also part of the province of Alava in the Basque Country. Alavesa is closest to the Atlantic and is most influenced by the coastal cooling effects. While it shares a somewhat similar climate to the Alta region, there is more limestone here. The Alavesa wines are typically more full-bodied and more prominent acidity. Vineyards in this area also tend to have a lower vine density with large spacing between rows. This is due to the relatively poor soil conditions with the vines needing more distance from each other and less competition for the nutrients in the soil. Lastly, there is Rioja Oriental, formerly known as Rioja Baja. Unlike the cooler climates of Alta and Alavesa, Oriental sits on the eastern border of Rioja in a more Mediterranean climate, making this the warmest and driest part of Rioja. These wines are more Garnacha driven, often darker in color with higher alcohol content and lower levels of acidity. The wines are typically blended with wines from the other two cooler climate areas to produce a more balanced wine.
DOCa aging classifications in Rioja are also notable and extensive. Vino Blanco and Vino Tinto describe normal table wines, but DOCa wines can be classified as Joven, Crianza, Reserva, and Grand Reserva with longer barrel and bottle aging requirements as you go down the respective list. For example, prior to being available for distribution and consumption Crianza red wines must be in their third year of aging, with a minimum of one year in oak barrels. For white wines, the minimum barrel ageing period is six months. As you might imagine, Reserva and Grand Reserva have longer aging requirements. When looking around any wine shop, you may notice that wines from Rioja on the shelf are typically much older than many of the other bottles. There is a tangible pride in the patience that it takes to wait for a wine to be in it's drinking window before you bring it to market.
Considering the history, perseverance, prestige, and elaborate winemaking of Rioja, its hard to believe they are still trying to find their place at the forefront of the wine consumption community. Rioja wines represent some of the best Old World winemaking in the world. If you have been sleeping on Rioja, it is time to wake up and sip the juice!
This month we bring the focus to the southern hemisphere and one of the southern-most wine growing regions on the continent of Africa, Walker Bay. Located 60 miles from Cape Town, Walker Bay is stretched between the Bot River to the North and Cape Agulhas (where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet) to the South. The bay itself is a marine protected area and has become a popular ecotourism destination for whale watching, visiting penguins, diving with great white sharks, and now, visiting world class wine estates. This small, up-and-coming maritime wine region stays cooler than any other in South Africa, thanks to the very chilly Benguela current coming up from Antarctica. This cold oceanic current brings cooling breezes that keeps the grapes fresh as they bask in long sunny growing conditions. Soils are primarily well-draining shale and sandstone, but also contain a high amount of clay which aids in water retention as the vines dig deep root systems for nourishment. This soil combination is ideal and makes this subregion of South Africa perfect for a variety of grapes. Here you will find many grapes suited for the cooler climate like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc as well as reds like Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Pinotage and even a bit of Merlot.
Kicking off this new world flight is the Benguala Cove Cuvée 58, a non-vintage "Cap Classique". The wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Sparkling wines made in the traditional method are called "Méthode Cap Classique" in South Africa. This term came about in the 1990's as a response to concerns over using "Champagne" or "Méthode Champenoise" for any sparkling wines not made in the region of Champagne. Located on the Bot River Lagoon, the vineyards for this sparkling overlook the Atlantic Ocean and are kept extremely cool by those oceanic breezes mentioned earlier. The wine is named after the gold standard for facets of a diamond, 58, to honor the “precision both the diamond cutter and winemaker apply to their craft”. Fresh and clean aromas of citrus and pear with tart flavors of citrus and apple, this sparkling wine is dangerously easy to drink.
Next, we move to Alheit Vineyards and their Chenin Blanc and Semillon blend called "Cartology". The Alheit winery is located in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (meaning Heaven and Earth), and was started in 2010 by a husband and wife with the mission to produce, in their words, “very South African wines”. Their wines show a distinct sense of place, meaning that the qualities in the wine reflect the vineyards and natural terroir rather than intervention of any kind in the winemaking process. Cartology is one of their flagship wines, highlighting grapes that have been grown throughout the Western Cape for hundreds of years. Pure ripe pear, sweet herbs, citrus, and balanced salinity make this
Beaumont Family Wines brings the third flight wine and is made from the distinctly South African grape, Pinotage. Pinotage is a genetic cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault by scientist Abraham Perold in 1925. The reason for this was to create a heartier Pinot Noir-like grape that could grow well in South Africa’s climate. Pinotage was popular for a bit, but has struggled with a bad reputation due to high yield, low quality, commercial wines that make up a majority of the wines. However, in the last 15 years, a few South African winemakers have begun to focus on more intentional winemaking techniques to help Pinotage really shine. Beaumont Family Wines was founded in 1974 and is still family run today. This bottle reflects the cooler Walker Bay with ripe red fruits and fine tannins. We suggest pairing your Pinotage with barbecue, spiced curries and the heartier fare of the winter months.
Hermanuspietersfontein, named after a Dutch teacher who came to South Africa in 1778, is a town off the southern coast of Walker’s Bay. In 1902 the town’s name was changed to Hermanus by the Postmaster out of practicality; Hermanuspietersfontein was too long. Hermanuspietersfontein Wines is located in the town of Hermanus and sits at the entrance to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Their 'Posmeester' is a Merlot-based red blend that rounds out our flight. As you may have now guessed, the name means Postmaster in Afrikaans (language evolved in the Cape of South Africa by Dutch, French and German settlers), and is an ode to the history of the town. This smooth, easy drinking wine provides red fruits, spice and earth. This is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Wait, we have a bonus wine this month! Did you know that South Africa was globally known for a very special dessert wine back in the 17th and 18th centuries? Constantia is a historic area in the Western Cape known for unfortified dessert wines made from Muscat de Frontignan. The wine, also known as Vin de Constance, was widely exported to Europe and also held in the highest regards by many royalty at the time. Sadly, phylloxera obliterated the market in the late 1800s. Winemaking in Constantia eventually came back, but the wine world has certainly changed since then. While this is not quite Vin de Constance, this unique dessert wine from Benguala Cove is made using Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The grapes are allowed to hang past normal ripening to become more concentrated in their sugars. This method produces a sweeter wine, with concentrated flavors, yet maintains a good dose of acidity to keep the finish lifted on the palate. With the holidays already here, there is no better time to add a little extra indulgence to your tasting!
Walker Bay is one of the renowned wine regions of the Western Cape and will only continue to produce exceptional quality wines at great value. Winemakers and farmers alike from this region, as well as all over South Africa, continue to hone their techniques and learn through each vintage to produce the most reflective wines of the place they call home. We look forward to sharing all five of these wines with you throughout the month of December.
Walker Bay Flight
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We now host curated tastings for groups of two to ten people. Our tastings are a great way to explore wines that are new to you or indulge in some of your favorite regions. Whether you are looking to learn or to simply relax, our team has you covered.